Atomic Empire In Durham: An LGS Built By Web Developers
Before the existence of a retail store, Jennifer and her boyfriend, Mark, would sell duplicate comics he owned on eBay. Eventually, they switched to selling on their e-commerce site. Jennifer and Mark have a background in full-stack web development, thus the creation of their in-house point-of-sale system (POS). Mark focused on the front-end development and marketing, while Jennifer handled the back-end and managerial duties. The POS system featured in their store, Atomic Empire, launched in June 2003. The store is located in Durham, North Carolina. Despite being a well-known city, it’s the only store in the area, according to Wizards of the Coast’s Store & Event Locator.
Atomic Empire is at its second location, coinciding with the store’s rebranded name as of 2012. Jennifer did not think the store would be a success initially. Jennifer and Mark did not have experience working in retail. Additionally, at the time, Jennifer felt retail was dying. However, she has been running store operations where her focus involves collaborating with employees to solve problems. With 30 employees and multiple departments, the store encompasses 12,000 sq. ft., with 2,500 sq. ft. dedicated to gaming space and 2,500-4000 sq. ft dedicated to the warehouse. The store has 2-3 departments featuring roles for front-end retail, e-commerce fulfillment, data entry, customer service, and part-time staff for handling comic book subscriptions.
Atomic Empire And Its Focus Area of Improvement & Target Customer Base
With a focus on improving communication through transparency, Jennifer feels this is the best way to explain the realities of the economics of a game store to her customers. As a collaborator, Jennifer notes that working on solutions to solve problems requires giving up ego. She was once given blunt advice that she found very helpful: “You have to get over your infatuation with your … expertise.” Jennifer’s satisfaction comes from making decisions that affect her destiny. To relieve stress from the day-to-day operations, she maintains outside hobbies as an escape.
The store features a predominantly casual player base by design. With draft beer available on tap, Jennifer noticed that the competitive crowd wouldn’t have a beer while they were playing. On the other hand, casual Warhammer players will. Due to having beer on tap, liability insurance cuts into sales which can explain the store’s approach to targeting the more casual player. Players of the store enjoy Games Workshop and Geek Garage Sale which are the two most popular events Atomic Empire runs. The latter allows customers to earn raffle tickets and redeem them for in-store credit. The store’s current location has infinite parking available and visibility, as Jennifer notes. This is beneficial because the store is near universities, research institutions, and hospitals.
E-Commerce Success & Improving Outreach
Having an e-commerce side of the business has allowed for a larger retail store with more inventory, Jennifer says. Atomic Empire receives 20-30 orders per day on average and the online revenue helps with cash flow. According to a customer, Jacqueline Lawton, as shared on the Atomic Empire Facebook page:
“Couldn’t find the comic variant I wanted and happened upon atomicempire.com.
“They had what I wanted (and a little more)! My stuff got to me quicker than I expected and on top of that it was packaged so well!! Im always worried about buying comics online because of packing and shipping, but Atomic Empire made sure my stuff was packed safely.
“I’ll definitely be ordering from them again!“Jacqueline Lawton, Atomic Empire Customer
However, Jennifer feels that as a store their weakness is outreach. Previously, they used to attend conventions to get the name out there, but this proved exhausting, she says. Currently, they rely on word-of-mouth to attract new customers. Although, they do work with Magic: The Gathering clubs occasionally as well.
Jennifer hopes to eventually become a WPN Premium Store despite being one of the first stores to apply, she notes. Interior cosmetic work is planned for the near future. This is the final task before the coveted WPN Premium tag is applied to Atomic Empire.
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